Writing Tips

Your Writing Environment Matters

By July 6, 2014 14 Comments
Millie Ho ereader

The trusty eReader.

Sometimes I read a book so interesting I have to gush about it to others, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which explores the nature of phenomenal success as a socio-economical construct, is one such book—especially since it’s, in my humble opinion, applicable to writing.

Let’s go over the basics.

Success, Gladwell argues, is not dependant on how talented or smart you are. It’s not even about who your daddy is or if you work harder than everyone else (though that helps).

It’s all about your environment. Not your physical writing environment, but your social, economical, and technological environment.

Here some environment-as-success-catalysts mentioned by Gladwell

Thanks to his proximity to a university, school, and people that gave him nearly unlimited access to real-time computing in a time when programming was largely enabled by punch cards, Bill Gates had a significant advantage in programming (knowledge and application) over his peers when personal computing took off.

Thanks to their play-or-die stint in Hamburg clubs in the early ’60s,  where they played back-to-back sessions, seven days a week, and covered a variety of genres, The Beatles surpassed other bands in both on-stage presence and stamina, perfecting their distinctive and universally commercial sound in a way that could only be done if they were literally forced to practice every day.

Thanks to growing up in the tail end of the Great Depression and watching their parents’ work ethic and entrepreneurialism elevate their living conditions from the lower to middle and upper classes, the children of first generation immigrants learned to work hard and take advantage of the superior education opportunities of the times to obtain coveted careers in law, medicine, and academia.

So what does this mean for writers?

Writing a novel is not an exercise in individual ability, but an exercise in how conducive your environment is to writing that novel.  And not just the physical environment, which encompass your writing space and tools of the trade. I’m talking about the external environment that’s greater than ourselves. If we were to examine the writing environment from a social, economical, and technological standpoint, it would look something like this:

1. Social

Are you surrounded by people that support your writing aspirations?

2. Economical

Can you support yourself while striving to meet your writing goals?

3. Technological

Are you taking advantage of new developments in technology (social media, e-reading, and more) to spearhead your writing?

While these factors are definitely not a sure predictor of your writing success, it can definitely make the act of writing easier or harder.

This is especially true when I don’t write for a week or two: I turn to the Internet to share my struggle and solicit advice from other writers (technological), or get a pep talk from a friend that leaves me mildly embarrassed but ready to tackle writing head-on (social). These constructs keep my pen to the page when I’d rather lounge on a beach reading all day, and keeps the writing machine well-oiled.

So, the writing environment. It matters.


Millie’s Note: How would you answer the three questions? What gets you through your roadblocks?

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • kvennarad says:

    1, 2, 3 – yes. But so do a heck of a lot of other writers, and yet less than 2% of what is submitted to agents or publishers ever gets published commercially.

    Which brings us to the horny old issue – and it’s weird to think of this as an ‘old’ issue – of self-publishing. I would still venture the opinion that only the minority of self-published authors can be compared to The Beatles, Bill Gates, or post-depression immigrants. Yet some self-published authors, even if their un-edited manuscript is… hmm… not of the standard that would attract publication or serious review, are relatively successful in terms of numbers of readers.

    I’m afraid I approach Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis with an amount of skepticism. A lot of it seems to fall back on the American philosophy that ‘if you work hard, you’ll get on’, which is patently disprovable by the number of people who work damn hard and don’t (i.e. the vast majority of people in work). The rest is a matter of common sense, inasmuch as if you are able to place yourself where most of the attention is focused, you stand a better chance of being noticed; but even that only goes as far as saying, in effect, that if you want to win the lottery you have to buy a ticket. However, the more people that do that, the less your chance is. So now we’re all rushing to be where social media are hot – when I started writing, I never thought I would have a web site, several blogs, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account, and I have no idea whether most of these even existed when I started – and lowering our chances.

    Of course, one way of having success is to produce a book analysing success. It works every time. We buy them. Neat trick, Gladwell. Memo to self – bring out a book called ‘The Secret of my Phenomenal Success’, it won’t matter what’s actually in it.



    • Millie Ho says:

      Gladwell did mention that the successes that were dependant on personal ability (i.e. drafting only the best ice hockey players) could not be explained by environment/connections alone. In this case, hard work would play a big role—but the conditions had to be present for you to be ABLE to work hard (i.e. born early enough in the year to be viewed more favourably by a coach comparative to other ‘less-mature’ players in your age group, and thus given extra attention).

      A parallel to the writing world could thus be drawn. I think of Mario Puzo, who wrote ‘The Godfather’ specifically for commercial success, because he knew American culture was (or was starting to) become increasingly more fascinated with the secretive and honour-bound underground crime syndicates. The fascination of the public drove sales, but it was his mastery of storytelling that cemented his legend.

      And, yeah. Gladwell is one smart dude. : )

  • 1. Kinda? I figure I’m using #3 for this because my IRL friends don’t write.
    2. Oh yeah, got this covered. Still, it’s easy to fall off the writing band wagon when you’re busy with the day job… I’ve done a few no-writing for a month stretches, and them creative juices get awful funky sitting in storage.
    3. As I said, using these technology things because I need to find some like-minded writer-types. I’m aware that I should promote, but ick… Would much rather just use ’em to put myself out there, rather than wave it in the wind, and shout from rooftops. Gonna hit up smashwords and Amazon too, since I’m fairly sure my first tale won’t fit a commercially viable mould in conventional. Hehe. But isn’t this writing thing awesome fun? 🙂

    • Millie Ho says:

      It definitely is fun, D.R.

      There’s a talk by Neil Gaiman that expounds on the future of publishing, specifically about commercial viability vs. piracy. My takeaway from the talk was that it’s better to hand out work for free and drive sales through word-of-mouth (i.e.: like-minded writer-types) rather than push marketing. Never doubt the loyalty of the crowd.

      Anyway, would be interesting to see where everything’s headed.

  • A new perspective for me. Thank you Millie!

  • That’s interesting. I wrote a Gladwel inspired piece tonite, before coming across your page. Still, I didn’t notice any of the pages I didn’t come past that could be related back to my writing, true enuf. I never notice what I don’t do.

    That being said, I could easily have come past no related pieces. & THAT being said: Google reads everything we do every minute now in real time & redirects to maximize advertising impact. Though they aren’t allowed. just like Facebook isn’t allowed to screw with the emotions of 3 quaters of a million users without their permission by allowing some to see only happy posts, & others only the most depressing.

    Thus, although I think I just clicked on a random picture, then random post – it is prolly Google =P <3

  • Jen says:

    Social is key for me because being around people does prompt me to write — the dialogue and interactions all lead me to new character and scene developments. But I turn AWAY from the internet so that I make better use of my idle time.

    I’m off Facebook this week (aren’t you proud?) and Twitter, too. Turns out I can be really productive when I pay less attention to other people’s status updates.

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